Addressing teachers’ capacity development in the new normal
In 2020, teachers have faced unprecedented challenges head on — they have adapted, innovated, and reimagined teaching and learning in more ways than one. While many have pivoted to different mediums, methods, and modes of teaching and staying connected with students, others have struggled to cope.
Overall, it has affected their well-being. However, the essentiality of adaptability and lifelong learning has been accentuated in the current scenario. Unlearning and relearning has emerged as the key skill for survival. Teachers not only need to be supported to ensure their psychological well-being, they also need professional development to leverage technology to meet the widening learning gaps, student dropouts, and deliver effective futuristic pedagogy.
So we tried to zoom in to understand what needs to be shredded and added to teachers’ capacity development programs and in policies to support and empower them. A global virtual panel discussion was organized on December 15, 2020 by #NextGenEdu in collaboration with Sands School, UK, and Alokito Teachers. The topic of the virtual panel was on “Teachers’ Capacity Development: Student notebook for tomorrow’s teachers.”
Md Aminul Islam Khan, Secretary, Technical and Madrasah Education Division, Ministry of Education, Bangladesh, was the chief guest. Other panelists included Professor J S Rajput, educationist and former director of National Council of Educational Research and Training, India; Sean Bellamy, founder of Sands School, UK; and Dr Marianne Juntunen, pedagogical director of EduGems Finland. Further, Sarah Carr from Sidcot School, UK, and Sumaiya Binte Imad from Chittagong Grammar School, Bangladesh were the keynote speakers. The discussion was moderated by Ms Azwa Nayeem, chairperson of Alokito Hridoy Foundation and Alokito Teachers.
A student conference, moderated by students to pool expectations, and ideas about future education systems, teacher development, and future classrooms preceded the panel discussion. The outcomes of the student conference were shared by the keynote speakers.
Sumaiya Binte Imad and Sarah Carr highlighted the inequalities within and between schools. Even within their own school they saw significant disparities in relative wealth, causing some poorer students to be bullied and socially excluded, which teachers didn’t know how to handle. They described cases of students in public schools who weren’t taught how to apply to college, blocking their access to further education and maintaining a vicious cycle of inequality.
Students suggested an existing initiative with the potential to address such inequality is one in which older students help provide lessons to the children of the school’s support staff, in order to improve the education and life chances of less privileged students within their own community.
Second, students expressed the need for: Increased awareness of learning difficulties like dyslexia and ADHD, gender sensitive education, and a greater focus on social and emotional well-being, with teachers providing support to students. These changes could be implemented as part of a personal social and health education program, they suggested.
Third, students feel it’s vital that their teachers are enthusiastic about their subject, as this makes lessons more interesting and effective. However, there is concern that only one form of teaching is used. The current lecture-based approach doesn’t take adequate account of different learning types — for example visual versus auditory learners — meaning many students find it more difficult to take in the subject matter.
Students suggested that lessons would be more engaging if there was more interaction between students and teachers, which could include more frequent discussions, debates, and project-based learning. The students supported the idea of continual professional development training for teachers, which could help expand their teaching techniques.
Fourth, students reported difficulties in getting further explanation from teachers outside of lessons when there was something they didn’t understand, saying the same content was often repeated back to them by teachers who were unwilling to spend unpaid time finding a different way to explain a concept.
Consequently, many students in the public sector have resorted to private tutors for tailored tuition. However, students liked the idea of an online messaging platform they could use to message their teachers if they needed further help.
Fifth, students expressed frustration at the out-dated resources they were learning from and were eager for existing online resources to be incorporated into the curriculum in order to update, enhance, and diversify their learning. They felt passionately about having more choice over what they learn at school. Many feel as though the current system has become narrow, driven by the requirements of a small number of professions.
On the basis of these issues, Dr Marianne Juntunen expressed that the problems addressed by the students are quite universal in nature. According to her expertise, she feels that teachers should be kind and dynamic coaches for the students. She also put emphasis on how teachers should build a strong and empathetic relationship with the students in order to understand the mental health of the students.
Sean Bellamy on the other hand truly appreciated how Sarah Carr and Sumaiya Binte Imad highlighted the drawbacks in the education sector that persist around the world. He believes that more voices from the stakeholders around the world will help make the education sector more responsive to the diverse needs of the students.
Based on the aforementioned issues mentioned, Professor J S Rajput shared his insights on how to tackle this situation in order to get the highest return that will benefit all the stakeholders in this sector. He said, “My experience tells me, the highest return will come if you invest in the teachers. If a teacher is willing to continuously grow, that will make all the difference.” He also believes that if the relationship between a learner and a teacher is established on a one to one basis, then a lot of tension between these two participants will be reduced.
On the other hand, the results from a survey conducted by Alokito Teachers under Alokito Hridoy Foundation on a pool of 268 teachers to know about the kind of support teachers need to continue with the teaching-learning activities in Covid-19 highlighted some key issues.
34.33% of teachers said they needed better quality devices and equipment in order to take online classes. On the other hand, 43.28% of the teachers said they have trouble accessing better internet and network connectivity. Moreover, 16.79% of the teachers feel demotivated as they are overworked and under-appreciated for all the effort they put in during this difficult time.
When the teachers were asked what kind of assistance they needed in order to continue with the teaching-learning activities, 38.81% of the teachers mentioned that they need better functioning electronic devices and equipment and 24.63% mentioned that they need training in order to develop their skills.
From the results of the survey, it can be deduced that there is a widening digital divide. Professor J S Rajput shared his viewpoint on this matter explaining how our teachers are attuned to working in a difficult situation. However, a motivated teacher always finds a way to overcome such situations.
He believes that adverse conditions make a person innovative. In his years of experience, he has witnessed that teachers always find a way to overcome any hurdles. He also pointed out that it is not only the responsibility of the teachers to educate a nation, the government and the system should come forward in order to assist the teachers in shaping the future world.
The main idea that came forward from this panel discussion was the necessity to build a clear and robust teacher-student relationship. As mentioned by the keynote speakers, Sarah Carr and Sumaiya Binte Imad, there is a gap between this relationship.
Sean Bellamy and Dr Marianne Juntunen both explained and put emphasis on building a clear communicative and empathetic relationship with the learners. Sean Bellamy further explained how he has been able to establish a relational approach and a democratic environment in his school, where both the teachers and the students have an equal say in decision making.
Honourable Secretary, Md Aminul Islam Khan, Technical and Madrasah Education Division, Ministry of Education, Bangladesh said: “The world is going through a difficult time. Even after the vaccine, the world will not be the same anymore.” In order to cope with this new and fast-changing world it is most important to build a trustworthy relationship with the learners.
As learning has shifted to virtual mediums, it is quite impossible to know what each and every learner is doing while attending a class. As a result, a lot of innovative and interactive ways need to be established in order to tackle the rising number of problems faced by this situation. He also mentioned that the government of Bangladesh is actively assisting teachers and the learners.
However, he also put emphasis on how a change in our overall mindset needs to take place in terms of examination, assessment, and ways of delivering lessons to our students. He believes that it is time to make a shift in our overall education policy. Trust, empathy, and belief are the core aspects of the education system.
As the schools reopen, the biggest challenge would be helping the students come out of the trauma of isolation and meeting different students at different levels of knowledge, understanding, and skills. To cope with this situation, tremendous empathy and understanding needs to be manifested by all the stakeholders of the system. Instead of cramming students with volumes of knowledge that might quickly dissipate from their minds, it is important to not treat them as empty buckets and rather as co-creators of knowledge.
Therefore, teachers’ capacity development in these regards is essential to enable them to build empathetic relationships and collective capacities. Next, we should integrate more voices from all the stakeholders in the education system to co-design an education policy that can be beneficial and inclusive for all.
Adiba Karim is Communications Manager, Alokito Teachers, Alokito Hridoy Foundation.